VANCOUVER – Vancouver Canucks left wing Chris Higgins is close to coming back from a minor knee strain. That return should also provide enough forward depth to help the Canucks bring back their three-line attack.
Until then, however, Vancouver will probably continue to load up their top-two lines. That means playing centers Ryan Kesler and Derek Roy together on the second unit as they try to clinch a playoff spot Saturday night with a win over a Detroit Red Wings team that needs a victory to move back into eighth place in the West.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said he would take the afternoon to decide whether to continue the two-line tactic of the past two games. Throughout the team's morning skate, Higgins skated on the third line with Roy in the middle and Jannik Hansen on the right.
Higgins huddled with the coach and trainers towards the end of practice, but said he wasn’t yet ready to play.
“We’re pretty close but it didn't feel quite right and I hadn't had a full practice with the team,” said Higgins, who has played well with trade-deadline addition Roy, getting 14 shots in three games before hurting his knee and missing three contests. “Definitely close. It just needs another day, get a full practice in.”
Higgins said he expects to play the final three games of the regular season, which would again give the Canucks three lines capable of chipping in offensively. Without the chemistry between Roy and Higgins, the third line has sputtered, so Roy was moved up alongside Kesler the past two games, with both players taking turns on the wing.
“There’s a little bit more ice time and a bigger role in those top-nine spots but nobody has been consistent enough to keep them there,” Vigneault said.
While the Canucks load up, Detroit appears set to spread out its attack by splitting up Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. After playing several games together, the duo broke up after a bad first period in a 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday. The indications in practice are that this trend will continue in Vancouver – at least to start the game.
“We're going to do whatever we think is going to help us win and they know it,” coach Mike Babcock said of Datsyuk and Zetterberg. "We talk about it. … We've had them together and apart. And if we don't like the matchup, we adjust.”
Babcock will also re-insert Jordin Tootoo into the lineup after the right wing was a healthy scratch in Calgary, with Patrick Eaves sitting out for the third time in four games.
Here are the rest of the expected lineups for the Canucks and Red Wings on Saturday night at Rogers Arena:
Daniel Cleary – Henrik Zetterberg – Valterri Filppula
Justin Abdelkader – Pavel Datsyuk – Johan Franzen
Gustav Nyquist – Joakim Andersson – Damien Brunner
Drew Miller – Cory Emmerton – Jordin Tootoo
Niklas Kronwall – Jonathan Ericsson
Brendan Smith – Kyle Quincey
Jakub Kindl – Danny DeKeyser
Injured: Darren Helm (back), Todd Bertuzzi (back), Martin Samuelsson (upper body)
Scratches: Patrick Eaves, Ian White, Carlo Colaiacovo, Brian Lashoff
Notes: Bertuzzi, who has missed all but seven games this season with a back injury, is skating with the team. So is Mikael Samuelsson, who has only played one game in the past two months and four all season.
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Alexandre Burrows
Derek Roy – Ryan Kesler – Jannik Hansen
Mason Raymond – Andrew Ebbett – Zack Kassian
Steven Pinizzotto – Maxim Lapierre – Dale Weise
Dan Hamhuis – ?????????Jason Garrison
Andrew Alberts – Alexander Edler
Keith Ballard – Cam Barker
Injured: Kevin Bieksa (lower body), Chris Higgins (knee), Christopher Tanev (ankle), David Booth (ankle surgery), Manny Malhotra (eye).
Scratched: Tom Sestito, Derek Joslin
Notes: Higgins is expected back Monday against the Chicago Blackhawks and Tanev, who was spotted in a walking boot Saturday, should also return before the playoffs start. But Vigneault didn't sound as optimistic about Bieksa, who left the five-game road trip early because of a lower-body injury. The Canucks are 1-5-3 this season without Bieksa. He and Tanev are the team's only natural right-side defensemen.